The Africa Summit: Examining the world’s new economic engine


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

On Wednesday 5 February 2013, Economist Events successfully convened an audience of 180 delegates, comprising leading figures from business, banking, government, media and consultancies, for their inaugural Africa Summit, at the Royal Garden Hotel in London.

Gong provided media and communications support for the event and hosted a breakfast meeting, Chaired by The Economist’s Business Editor, Robert Guest. The theme of Opportunity Africa: What’s Your Next Move?  galvanised discussion among a handpicked group of companies keen to do more business on the Continent.

The Summit kicked off with a ministerial welcome by Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia followed up on her recent meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and shared her belief that Africa is on schedule to reach the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals thanks to unfaltering growth across the continent.

President Sirleaf stressed that in 2015 the UN Millennium Development Goals should immediately be followed by sustainability goals in each of Africa’s 54 countries, to ensure that the continent emerges fully on a global scale. She added that each African nation needs a stronger industrial basis first and foremost. Power, in the form of sustainable sources of energy, is needed to run factories, and the necessary infrastructure is required to transport the goods.

Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, agreed that greener energies would be required to achieve sustainability goals. He added that Africa also needs Economic Integration. “Trade between African nations will ensure vibrant economies across the continent and only then will we be able to talk about ‘Africa’ as a whole.” He continued to say that whatever is needed to achieve this integration should be top of each government’s agenda.

Dr Ibrahim ended his speech by stating, “AID is the aspirin that helps ease the pain in some African countries. It adds up to 30 billion USD per year. TRADE is the health-giving vitamin that makes the continent strong and accounts for half a trillion USD per year.”

The ex-President of the World Bank for the Africa Region, Ms Obiageli Ezekwesili, said in her speech: “We need a strategy for encouraging sustainable long-term investment into the continent. The answer is simple; the answer is Rule of Law. With political governance improving all the time, many of Africa’s biggest problems will disappear in time. Young entrepreneurs are the future of Africa. We must give them the opportunity to help Africa reach its full potential. Good governance encourages entrepreneurship and transparency and accountability are therefore key.”

Renaissance Capital’s Global Chief Economist, Charles Robertson, said that the banking sector still has “room to boom” as it is inevitable that the African middle class, which is growing fast, will start borrowing. He added: “Africa needs more stock exchanges. To demonstrate the potential: The Nigerian economy is predicted to be bigger than Germany’s by 2037.”

Olam’s Managing Director, Ranveer Chauhan, said that his company could not survive without technology in Africa today. He sees technological innovation as being prevalent across the continent, and cited it as one of the main drivers of growth in agricultural best practice.

Herman Chinery-Hesse, Chairman at Softtribe, dwelt on the importance of Twitter, Facebook and the Internet to Africa. He said, “These know no borders and encourage innovative thinking among the young through discussions and easy access to information.”

During question time, Dr Abu-Leil Cooper from Barings Asset Management concluded that from an investor’s point-of-view, “investing with Africans is as important as investing in Africa.”

More information on the Africa Summit, including a long list of speakers, can be viewed here. The Economist Events continues its African programme with the Nigeria Summit 2013, to be held in Lagos on March 19th-20th.